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It was exactly the same when Stephen Fry walked out of the theatre [Cell Mates in 1995]. And then you stop and you get yourself together and start again.’Lumley turned her life around and believes she’s been incredibly lucky.She cites her son, her two grandchildren and the fact she married – at the age of 40 – the conductor Stephen Barlow (she was also briefly married to the scriptwriter Jeremy Lloyd, but divorced after a year).‘That will do for someone’s tea.’It’s not a line you’d expect from the car-crash fashionista Patsy Stone, the role she reprises for the new Absolutely Fabulous film, but it makes sense when you read her autobiography, Absolutely, which has been re-released this month.While it was her role in The New Avengers that high-kicked her and her infamous Purdey bowl haircut into the public conciousness, it was the drink- and drug-addled ex-model Patsy Stone in the multi-Bafta-winning Absolutely Fabulous that really ignited Lumley’s career When she first read for the part for Jennifer Saunders, she felt she had failed miserably. I read through a scene with her and the producer Jon Plowman, but I couldn’t seem to make Patsy sound like the person she was hoping for.At 21 she found herself pregnant by the photographer Michael Clayton, father of her son, Jamie. ‘The New Avengers was a huge TV show but I was paid a pittance.They never married (although remain good friends) and Lumley chose to bring up Jamie on her own at the height of the Swinging Sixties, when single mothers were deemed scandalous.‘For me it was my choice and my life was just about looking after my son. I signed a five-year contract and the first few years were rock-bottom pay, and they cancelled the show after two years despite its huge success, because that had been the plan all along.’She is honest enough, however, to admit there was a moment in her life where she could no longer cope on her own. I was completely overwhelmed.‘There was something in my head that just told me I needed to walk away.They appeared together in a Comic Relief Downton Abbey sketch in which she played an angel.
I looked up, and more and more stairs were unravelling in front of me like a scene from Alice Through The Looking Glass.
They walk around with their harming machines [mobile phones], harming each other with nasty comments. I don’t do any of it [her old Twitter account, which was run by her agent, ceased updating months ago]. The rest of it is a huge problem with enormous repercussions we are storing up for the future.
Being young is terribly stressful today and social media is a huge part of that stress.
She has now known Saunders for a quarter of a century.
Their magical on-screen alchemy became apparent on the first day of filming when Lumley insisted that Patsy should wear bright red lipstick, a dishevelled yellow beehive and add a Jagger slur to her perfect Queen’s English. I’ve never thought of myself as remotely beautiful.
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‘I know he is younger than my son but it was wonderful,’ she laughs.